House debates

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Questions without Notice

Abuse in Defence

2:29 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Defence. I refer the minister to his historic apology in the House yesterday to men and women in the Australian Defence Force and Department of Defence who have suffered sexual or other forms of abuse. What steps are being taken to deliver ongoing reform and make sure there is zero tolerance within Defence for inappropriate conduct in the future?

Photo of Stephen SmithStephen Smith (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Fraser for his question. The apology that I delivered yesterday on behalf of the government has been widely and well received. I acknowledge the support of members of the House for that apology, in particular the member for Fadden, who spoke yesterday on behalf of the opposition, strongly supporting the government's announcement yesterday, in particular, the apology.

The member for Fraser asked what we are doing to make sure that an apology will be backed up by concrete reform so that we never have to see the need for such an apology again. Members will recall that all of these matters arose in the aftermath of the so-called ADFA Skype incident, where the government set in train a series of reviews, a range of cultural reviews, asking the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Liz Broderick, to conduct a review of the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Australian Defence Force generally; the decision by the government to allow all areas of combat to be open to women; and the DLA Piper review, which I dealt with yesterday.

In response to the cultural reviews, earlier this year the Chief of the Defence Force, General Hurley, and the then secretary, Duncan Lewis, published Defence's overarching response to that, described as Pathway to change. That document is now essential reading for all members of the Defence Force. In that document the Chief of the Defence Force and the secretary make it clear that in the past there have been mistakes but from here on in there is zero tolerance, there is no acceptance for the turning of a blind eye and there is no acceptance for inappropriate conduct. In the course of yesterday I also announced more detail in terms of the government's and Defence's acceptance of all of the recommendations of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner into the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force.

The member graciously referred to the apology yesterday as historic. There were two other things yesterday which became public which I also regard as historic. Firstly, the government and Defence announced that, when it came to allegations of sexual assault, sexual abuse, harassment or discrimination, restrictive reporting would be allowed—in other words, reporting on a confidential basis outside the chain of command. This is unheard of, but we have seen very good experience of this in the United States in recent years. Secondly was the statement by the chiefs of the service committee—the Chief and Vice-Chief of the Defence Force, the secretary and the various service chiefs—that implementation of these reforms would be non-negotiable. Yesterday I said 'our actions and commitment into the future will ensure that the apology given today to those men and women in the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Defence who have been subject to abuse will never have to be repeated'.

In the end, ministers present and future, chiefs of the Defence Force present and future, secretaries present and future and service chiefs present and future will be judged by the way in which we ensure that all of the reforms are implemented to ensure that this never happens again.